Plans to develop a block-long, 59,000-square-foot mixed-use building on Main Street in downtown Ketchum hit a major hurdle on Tuesday.
Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-1 to deny a set of applications to construct a four-story, 48-foot-tall residential and commercial structure on four lots between Fourth and Fifth streets, with some objections that the building would be too large and would not fit Ketchum’s “small-town character.”
The project—on the east side of Main Street, in a block including so-called “Hot Dog Hill” and the former location of Formula Sports—would include 12 market-rate condominium units, five workforce-housing units, four ground-level retail units, a common area and 17 parking spaces.
The decision came after developer Chris Ensign, of Utah-based Solstice Development, criticized a city staff report recommending denial of the project and asked that the P&Z make a decision Tuesday night, rather than continuing the review process to potentially modify the plans to gain approval.
“I’ve been doing this about 20 years now. I’ve never read a staff report like this in my life,” Ensign said. “I’m confused. I’m perplexed. I think there’s more biases and more inaccuracies than I’ve ever read in a staff report before. I don’t think it has credibility anymore. It’s so strongly written against.”
Ensign said he studied the city’s development codes and comprehensive plan—a guiding land-use vision for the city—to create a project that meets the city’s standards and does not require any special variances or waivers. He and his development team said the city has approved several projects with large facades or that occupy the length of an entire city block.
“If you guys don’t like what we’re proposing, change your code, change your comp plan,” he said.
Ensign said the project offers a “trifecta” of benefits: storefronts, residences and workforce housing.
“This is the perfect product for a downtown core,” he said.
The city staff report cites several reasons why the project does not meet the city’s standards. It states that the building would “diminish Ketchum’s vibrant, small-town character,” “ignores local context,” “will exacerbate the gentrification and homogenization of downtown Ketchum” and “needs significant design changes.”
The report also notes that the project uses an allowed—but not guaranteed—density bonus that makes it “out of scale with Main Street.”
Solstice Development submitted a set of three applications to the city, after having the project reviewed four times last year in the city’s pre-application design-review process, in which developers can have plans reviewed and commented on before they submit a formal development application. The design of the building was changed substantially during the process, city officials noted, but the overall scale of the project was not.
The applications for design review, a lot-line shift to remove the internal lot lines and a plat for the residences were all denied by the P&Z. The P&Z alone conducts the design review approval. The denials of the lot-line shift and plat applications are recommendations to the City Council, which would make a final decision on those matters.
The P&Z will finalize its decisions to deny the applications by approving the “findings of fact” at its March 9 meeting, city officials said. The developer will then have 15 days to appeal the P&Z’s decisions to the City Council.
P&Z member’s decisions to deny the proposed building—which is designed to be three stories and 37 feet tall along Main Street—came amid objections to the project’s overall size and the fact that the developer did not conduct a community-outreach effort to get public input on the plans.
“I feel that the scale is not right for Ketchum,” Commissioner Mattie Mead said, adding that the building has a “domineering presence.”
P&Z Chairman Neil Morrow said he thinks the project “feels too bulky” and Commissioner Jennifer Cosgrove cited the “unwillingness of the design team to cooperate” on making suggested changes or gathering public input. Morrow said written public comments submitted to the city indicated opposition to the size of the building.
Commissioner Brenda Moczygemba—who cast the sole vote against denial—said she supports keeping density in the downtown core.
In a public hearing Tuesday, some community members offered support for the project.
Bob Crosby, government affairs director for the Sun Valley Board of Realtors, said density in the downtown core should not be “condemned” and the project would add “vibrancy” to the city. He said developers who follow the city’s zoning codes should have a reasonable expectation of approval.
“We think the zoning code should be a clear road map,” he said.
Harry Griffith, executive director of Sun Valley Economic Development,” said the estimated $27 million project would have “a massively positive impact on the entire north valley economy.”
Griffith said Ketchum has gained a negative image in the development sector.
“It has, unfortunately, gained the reputation as being a difficult place to do business, and discussions like this are not helpful,” he said.
Before the vote, Ensign offered some final thoughts to the P&Z, telling commissioners that he feels he is “being held to a different standard” than other developers. He said the city would be making a mistake to reject a project that offers community housing for local workers.
“Rome’s burning behind you because you don’t have the workforce housing,” he said. “You’re an elitist community now and you’re not willing to get behind your comprehensive plan.”